There is no question that accidents involving large commercial trucks are some of the most destructive and devastating accidents that occur on roads and highways across the United States. There are a number of federal laws and regulations that truck drivers must follow in order to safely operate such a massive vehicle and prevent a truck accident that could cause extensive property damage, catastrophic injuries, and fatalities. Earlier this year, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety released its annual report that provided a detailed look at road safety in each state. The report also suggested that there is more that the federal government can do to improve safety on the roadways, including establishing new regulations specific to the trucking industry that can help reduce fatal accidents.
What are Examples of New Trucking Regulations for 2021?
The following are safety regulations for the trucking industry that have been suggested by the Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws for 2021:
- Speed limiters
- Automatic emergency braking systems, lane departure warning, and blind-spot detection required in all new vehicles
- Underride guards
- Entry-level driver training
- Screening for obstructive sleep apnea
- Automated enforcement, including red light cameras
- Impaired driving detection technologies
- Additional safety standards for autonomous vehicles
- Rear seat safety
Safety officials argue that safety technologies such as automatic emergency braking and lane departure warnings are extremely effective at preventing fatal truck accidents. According to the president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) such as automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and blind spot detection are proved to prevent crashes. However, they are not required as a standard feature in commercial trucks. The new administration should make this a priority to prevent future truck accident fatalities.
Members of the trucking industry agree that certain regulations will improve safety on the roadways, but they argue that the majority of truck accidents are caused by the driver of the passenger vehicle. In addition, they claim that there are limitations and dangers associated with certain ADAS. According to the research analyst for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), driver training is essential for improving safety on the roadways. No technology can replace a well-trained driver.
How Common are Truck Accidents?
According to the OOIDA, there are close to 4 million commercial truck drivers actively participating in commerce within the United States. With this many large trucks on the road, truck accidents are an unfortunate reality, and it is usually the occupants of the passenger vehicle involved in the accident who suffer the most devastating injuries. Some of the common causes of truck accidents include drowsy driving, even though truck drivers are expected to follow the hours of service (HOS) regulations. Other common causes of truck accidents include distracted driving, drunk driving, and poor road conditions where the truck driver is unable to slow down, stop, or maintain control of the vehicle. The following are truck accidents statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS):
- In 2019, 4,119 people were fatally injured in truck accidents.
- Close to 70 percent of the fatalities were occupants of the passenger vehicle involved in the accident.
- There was a 31 percent increase in truck accident-related fatalities from 2009 to 2019.
- Although truck accidents are responsible for only three percent of injury-causing accidents, the severity of the injuries tends to be much more serious because of the massive size and weight of the average commercial truck.
What Impact Do Truck Regulations Have on the Settlement Process?
There are a wide range of state and federal regulations that truck drivers, truck companies, and manufacturers must follow. For example, truck drivers must follow the HOS regulations that help prevent drowsy driving-related truck accidents. In addition, there are weight limits to the amount of cargo that a truck can haul, and trucks must be inspected and repaired on a regular basis. If a motorist is injured in a truck accident and he or she can prove that a statute or a federal regulation was violated, this will increase the chance of reaching a favorable settlement.
Commercial truck drivers and truck companies also have higher insurance requirements. If a motorist is injured in an accident involving another car, he or she will only be able to settle for the maximum amount allowed by the at-fault driver’s insurance company. However, because truck drivers and trucking companies have higher minimum policy limits, the injured victim will likely receive a favorable settlement amount, even if the truck driver or truck company carried the minimum amount of insurance.
Who is Liable for a Truck Accident?
If a motorist suffers a catastrophic injury after being involved in a truck accident, they are likely to suffer very serious injuries. The costs associated with these injuries can be astronomical, particularly if the victim requires long-term care and is unable to return to work. Therefore, it is crucial that the victim receives the financial compensation necessary to cover those costs. When it comes to determining liability, there are a number of parties that may be responsible for the victim’s injuries, including the following:
- The truck driver
- The truck company
- The person that leased the truck from the owner
- The manufacturer of the truck, or certain parts of the truck that may have been defective
- The loading company if the accident was caused by unsecured cargo
In some cases, it is very clear who caused the accident. For example, if the truck driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident, he or she would likely be held liable for the accident. However, in other cases it is less clear, or there may be multiple parties who are responsible. For example, if an accident was caused by faulty brakes, the truck company may argue that the brakes were defective, whereas the company responsible for manufacturing the brakes may claim that the truck company failed to properly maintain the brakes.
How Do Truck Companies Try to Avoid Liability?
Truck companies will use a range of different tactics to try to avoid paying a costly settlement for a truck accident. For example, rather than hire drivers as full-time employees, truck companies may hire them as independent contractors. If the driver causes an accident, the truck company can avoid liability by arguing that the driver is not an employee of the company. In addition, the trucking company may obtain the necessary permits to operate the truck, but instead of purchasing the truck, the company leases the truck or the equipment used to haul the goods. As a result, the truck company can make the following arguments if the truck is involved in an accident:
- Because the truck driver was not an official employee of the truck company, it is not liable for the driver’s negligence.
- Since the truck company does not own the truck, it is not responsible for an accident caused by a defective part or the necessary maintenance, repairs, and inspections.
Fortunately, according to current federal law, if a company owns a trucking permit, it is responsible for any accidents involving a truck that has its placard displayed on the vehicle. Even if the truck driver is an independent contractor or the vehicle is leased, the truck company will likely be liable if a motorist is seriously injured in a truck accident.
Will Multiple Defendants Affect My Settlement?
If multiple defendants are involved in a truck accident claim, they may all be equally responsible for paying the plaintiff’s damages. However, in other cases, each party may be responsible only for the damages they caused. A potential drawback of multiple defendants is that the proportions of fault may be unclear, which can make a settlement more difficult to obtain. Even if it is clear that the plaintiff was in no way responsible for causing the accident, the case may go to trial if the defendants cannot agree on the proportions of fault and who is responsible for the bulk of the financial compensation. The plaintiff may also have the option of settling with one defendant, then suing the other defendants for the balance of the damages.
Los Angeles Truck Accident Lawyers at ACTS Law Seek Justice for Victims of Truck Accidents
If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a truck accident, do not hesitate to contact the Los Angeles truck accident lawyers at ACTS Law. We understand how devastating these injuries can be, particularly for the occupants of the passenger vehicles. Our dedicated legal team will conduct a thorough investigation into the details of the case and ensure that your legal rights are protected. We will assist you with every step of the claims process and secure the financial compensation you deserve for your injuries. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 833-ACTS-LAW or contact us online.
With offices located in Los Angeles and San Diego, we serve clients throughout Southern California.